In the 1970s, countries across Europe and America were lifting their bans on women’s soccer. This included prominent soccer power England, which had banned women from playing soccer on Football Association club fields since 1921.
It wasn’t until 1991 that FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, held the first Women’s World Cup. A little over 10 years ago, female American soccer professionals became more strong in expressing their voice that the pay gap between men’s and women’s soccer requires change.
Then in early March of this year, prior to the start of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, our United States Women’s National Team filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Foundation, the official governing body for U.S. soccer. The basis of the suit has to do with the gap in the treatment of the women’s players and the gap in pay they receive in comparison to the Men’s National Team.
In this lawsuit, 28 members of the USWNT allege that during the 2019 World Cup season, each player was earning $8,216 less per game than the men’s team — even though the 2015 Women’s World Cup title match against Germany was the most watched soccer match in American television history. The men’s team has not seen nearly as much success as the women’s team, which has been ranked No. 1 in the world for 10 of the past 11 years.
The lawsuit also attacked the USSF’s revenue model, alleging that both national teams are not compensated on the basis of their success. In the model proposed by the USWNT Players Association, the athletes would be directly compensated depending on the success or failure during games and the resultant impact on the USSF’s revenue. The women were willing to place their livelihood on their level of monetary success for the USSF, but the USSF rejected this proposal. The USSF’s explanation has been that “market realties” do not justify equal pay for both teams.
Further, the lawsuit claimed that the USSF does not treat the men’s and women’s team equally in terms of their travel and training circumstances. In 2017, the USSF chartered 17 flights for the men’s team, whereas that same year the women were chartered no flights, despite playing more games out of the country.
The public, though, seems to be split. With the women’s World Cup win this month over the Netherlands and the controversy that followed from some highly charged political comments made by members of the American team, some people have called for the women to demonstrate more “class” before deserving higher pay. Some have also questioned if the women’s team draws more revenue than the men.
But since the men’s team has never made it past a round of 16 and was not even able to qualify for the last World Cup tournament, the opportunities for the men’s team to draw in this larger amount of revenue is dwindling. Meanwhile, the women are on a victory tour.
In terms of the issue about the class of the current USWNT and the recent actions by co-captains Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, if they were men, the story would be different. For instance, Rapinoe was quoted as saying she “would never (expletive) go to the White House” if the team were invited by President Donald Trump. Almost exactly a year earlier, Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry made a very similar comment about declining an invite to the White House.
Was the public outraged at Curry? Partially, yes. But after Trump revoked the NBA team’s invite to the White House, that situation was all mostly forgotten. If anything, fellow athletes in the National Basketball Association stood by Curry and ridiculed Trump for revoking the invitation.
Many citizens, though, have viewed the women’s soccer team’s comments about declining an invitation and speaking out against the current White House administration as being disrespectful, classless and a bad representation of the United States on the international level. Even so, the women’s stance on the current president has no correlation with the income and treatment they deserve after winning half of the eight Women’s World Cups that have been held.
A case could be made that the U.S. Women’s National Team has cultivated the Women’s World Cup through its domination of that event, and that the U.S. program has influenced women around the world to play and to be allowed to have their own national teams.
But, by being women, they are historically undercut, underappreciated and underrepresented. Most obviously, they are underpaid. In many facets of today’s society, women are paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same jobs. But in the case of the USWNT, women are having more success in doing their jobs.
Hopefully, the next turning point in women’s soccer equality will not, yet again, take another 20 years to come forth.